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Am J Public Health. 2014 May;104(5):847-53. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301679. Epub 2014 Mar 13.

Strategic messaging to promote taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages: lessons from recent political campaigns.

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Judy Jou and Sarah E. Gollust are with the Division of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Jeff Niederdeppe is with the Department of Communication, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Colleen L. Barry is with the Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.



This study explored the use of strategic messaging by proponents of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxation to influence public opinion and shape the policy process, emphasizing the experiences in El Monte and Richmond, California, with SSB tax proposals in 2012.


We conducted 18 semistructured interviews with key stakeholders about the use and perceived effectiveness of messages supporting and opposing SSB taxation, knowledge sharing among advocates, message dissemination, and lessons learned from their messaging experiences.


The protax messages most frequently mentioned by respondents were reinvesting tax revenue into health-related programs and linking SSB consumption to health outcomes such as obesity and diabetes. The most frequently mentioned antitax messages addressed negative economic effects on businesses and government restriction of personal choice. Factors contributing to perceived messaging success included clearly defining "sugar-sweetened beverage" and earmarking funds for obesity prevention, incorporating cultural sensitivity into messaging, and providing education about the health effects of SSB consumption.


Sugar-sweetened beverage taxation has faced significant challenges in gaining political and public support. Future campaigns can benefit from insights gained through the experiences of stakeholders involved in previous policy debates.

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